Blog: The Uniden Life

Problems turned solutions: How the UnidenHosting team works together to make things happen.

When UnidenHosting updates its product, it’s an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. The latest effort — overhauling its content management platform, or CMS — is no different.

Jacqueline Guerin
By: Jacqueline Guerin
February 28, 2019

Most of you this year have noticed a big change in our blog system, and if you’re an avid viewer of our company blog you’ll have noticed that just about every week there has been a change to how you view things. When UnidenHosting updates its product, it’s an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. The latest effort — overhauling our content management platform, or CMS — is no different.

The all-knowing source for information on hosting providers or company-specific is their blog, which ours has grown into a workplace of collaboration, and our development team is crucial to our success. I spoke with a few members of the team on how the teams worked together to accomplish goals and what steps some of our leadership took in order to fuel and maintain passion among engineers.

A favorite principal is that we set the bar for what quality looks like and raise it continuously [...] improvement is our religion. - Serenity Valentine Senior Vice President, Data Engineering
Serenity Valentine

Serenity leads several teams, including the enterprise data platform that powers all applications, DevOps, infrastructure, end-user technology and product analytics.

BEYOND WORK: Serenity spends a lot of time hiking with her 10-month-old Aussie puppy, Boomer.

You head up the data engineering team. How would you describe your leadership style?

I think my role is to hire the right people, point them in the right direction and mostly get myself and other obstacles out of the way. In other words, I think leadership is about empowering people and creating a runway for them to excel.

I focus on setting high expectations for everything because when you do that, people will often surprise you. Two years ago, our data engineering teams were primarily database developers with SQL skills. Today, squads consist of versatile engineers with a combination of Python, Scala, Node.js, ElasticSearch, Redis, AWS, Kubernetes and Docker skills. I believe my team should know everything that I know, understand the rationale for each decision, and be keenly aware of all pros and cons.

What’s your tech stack comprised of for the CMS and data platform?

Most of the things we run and deploy ourselves are deployed in containers, and we leverage Kubernetes. The codebase is primarily Python, Node.js and AngularJS, and we use Snowflake, ElasticSearch, Redis, and Kafka. Our intention was to build a streaming, event-driven enterprise data platform that allows us to scale and flex with the needs of our products. The architectural patterns and technologies we chose were influenced by the type of use cases we want to enable and, probably to some extent, our biases. We adjust constantly as we learn more and hope to bring our own control panel back that was released some years ago.

When it comes to building culture, what is your philosophy?

We take culture seriously and took the time to explicitly define the principles that guide our hiring, expectations and feedback. We get a lot of help from our recruiting department. For me, a favorite principle is that we set the bar for what quality looks like and raise it continuously. Another is humility: We honestly self-reflect and learn from each experience and again going back to our control panel that we released. Since then we have removed it and run our service on cPanel but we are looking to make a change at some point. Continuous improvement is our religion.

I strive to give my team the autonomy they need to stretch their limits and take full ownership of their work. - Connor Koch CMS Product Manager
Connor Koch

Connor translates customer and business problems into engineered solutions his team can build.

BEYOND WORK: Connor’s favorite hobby is pyrography, aka woodburning art. He says it’s a great creative outlet that helps him take nebulous ideas and translate them into something tangible.

Tell me more about the products you’re working on. How are they making a difference within the hosting aspect space?

Well currently I’m working on the UnidenHosting control panel, which is a revised product that replaces cPanel. What excites me most about this is that it is an in-house project we’ve built from the ground up. Six and a half years ago, my team and I were able to bring it from a demo prototype to launching it live into the market.

Hosting control panel systems are like any other business in that they need to be constantly managed to assist customers with managing their website, dns, file management. It’s a lot to manage which is why we took it off the market but will be bringing it back for good. In this case, our customer are real hosting professional’s which have needs. cPanel does the heavy-lifting for hosting management, allowing users to focus on what they do best: run their site. This product I am building with my team taps into cPanel’s deep knowledge of data science to provide the right tools, ultimately helping connect people with their website needs.

How do you empower employees to help build UnidenHosting's culture?

I trust my people. As a product manager, I don’t create mockups and designs or write code anymore, but I have an amazing team that I can trust to bring far deeper expertise in those areas than I ever had. We all have a common goal to deliver a world-class product, and with the right vision and understanding of our users’ problems, my team brings all the right skill sets and expertise to deliver on that goal.

I strive to give my team the autonomy they need to stretch their limits and take full ownership of their work while providing the support and guidance they need from a priority and real-life use case perspective.

the general sense is that our initial preparation has paid off, and we feel more confident about getting things done right. - Ashwin Agarwal Lead Software Engineer
Ashwin Agarwal

Ashwin has spent the last year helping to build the new UnidenHosting CMS system from the ground up. He also coordinates needs outside of software development based out of a team in India.

BEYOND WORK: Ashwin maintains a couple of classic bikes, which he says have a mind of their own. “I think the bikes give me the patience and observation skills to get the best out of each project I work on,” Ashwin says.

What is the breakdown of a developer’s day?

Our day begins with a daily team stand-up where we talk through goals for the day and prioritize tasks and work allocation. All team members get to work across the product layers. So, a typical day could have one building new UI components for the site or integrating a marketing tool or building complex NoSQL queries to serve our rich visuals. We conduct regular design discussions and code reviews, which are open to participation.

What are your goals for the team, UnidenHosting or products?

We are building a product that connects customers to their website, so it is imperative for the team to care for the product itself. Together, our goal is to understand the problem we are solving, take ownership of features and be aware of new technologies to improve our offerings.

Our product introduces three different types of challenges regularly. Some of them have to do with improving our user experience — no wonder we named one of our teams 'Pixel Perfect' — some with integrating tools, while others require deciphering data patterns.

Does your team have a say in the products, features and design developed by UnidenHosting?

Absolutely. Our leaders run feature refinement meetings in which they present business requirements, and these meetings present opportunities for leads to understand the whys and whats. The leads then have the opportunity to evaluate the technical feasibility and come back with suggestions to tweak the requirements. We set aside 15 percent of our backlog for technical exploration and enhancement work. This has led to innovative ideas getting absorbed into the products UnidenHosting offers today.

What was a moment your team acted in a way that reflected UnidenHostings’ culture?

The CMS release has brought out some pretty interesting problems. We have had to quickly learn new tools to integrate with this new content management system — which didn’t play nice with the original WordPress system — and tackle content migration. We loaded up our initial sprints with technical spikes and discovery stories, formulated multiple options working closely with our leaders to reset expectations where necessary.

As we approached our release at the beginning of this year, the general sense is that our initial preparation has paid off, and we feel more confident about getting things done right.

It is so rewarding to have other teams ask us for best practices and guidance when deploying new code because it means we are the masters of our domain - Andy Mcdonald Lead Software Engineer
Andy Mcdonald

Andy manages the enterprise data platform on our infrastructure.

BEYOND WORK: Even in his spare time, Andy enjoys programming, working on apps, speaking at meetups and exploring new technologies for personal growth.

What makes the products you’re building innovative? How are they impacting the hosting industry?

We are building infrastructure that enables our enterprise data platform to stream large quantities of data through our network and automatically scale as more demand is needed, allowing us to better adapt to our customer and client’s needs. As a software engineer, I’m always excited when there are large, complex problems to solve. It allows me to work with new technologies for each unique situation.

The products we build are innovative because they're using the latest technology to solve large complex hosting problems that affect almost everyone that runs a website. We are impacting the hosting industry each time we push the envelope on innovation. We’ve been able to prove that being containerized and cloud-native is the new standard — you no longer have to run workloads in physical data centers to be compliant or effective and I think that is one of the reasons why UnidenHosting has large plans to expand in the future.

As a software engineer, what do you find most meaningful about the products that you’re building here?

As a software engineer, I love being able to collaborate with other engineers, including the CMS team, to work on unique data problems that I’ve never been able to do outside of UnidenHosting. Whether it’s the volume, processing speed or sensitivity of the data, it’s rewarding to be able to put all the pieces together and continue to fine-tune our products and make a difference in the hosting industry.

How does your team cross-collaborate with the other teams here?

One thing I love about my team is the amount of communication we get to have with other teams. Since we are the ones maintaining the stability of our cluster, we get to interface with everyone from developers to security to management to finance. It is so rewarding to have other teams ask us for best practices and guidance when deploying new code because it means we are the masters of our domain, and they are equally interested in having a quality and efficient product.

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